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Donald F. Boesch
President, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science

Donald F. Boesch

Donald F. Boesch, an oceanographer, is president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and Vice Chancellor for Environmental Sustainability for the University System of Maryland. ALL POSTS

A potential gap closer

Q: Is carbon capture and sequestration a magic bullet to curb emissions or is the technology a bunch of hype?

The capture of carbon from CO2 emission streams and its permanent sequestration within geological formations has the potential to be an important gap closer in achieving the steep reductions in atmospheric emissions needed by the middle of this century in order to avoid dangerous climate change. However, when carbon capture and storage is promoted as a magic bullet by which we can continue to rely primarily on burning more fossil fuels (for example, "clean coal"), it is indeed a bunch of hype.

The individual components of carbon capture and sequestration systems, including removal from the emission stream, transportation and deep well injection, are based on currently feasible technologies and, indeed, are used to enhance oil recovery by the Norwegians in the North Sea and by domestic producers, as well. Scaling these systems up to a point whereby they could remove the amounts of carbon needed to make a significant contribution to reductions of greenhouse gas emissions is, however, a formidable challenge and will require substantial research and development investments to expand capacity and improve reliability and cost effectiveness.

So, we should not postpone other steps to reductions of emissions. Most immediately, these steps include significant and practical reductions through energy efficiency. Furthermore, there is broad consensus among economists that these steps must include as a central feature a system for pricing of carbon emissions across the economy that will promote movement toward renewable energy. And, by the way, these very same market forces will be needed to make carbon capture and storage an economically preferred alternative to paying for the high environmental costs of emissions to the atmosphere.

If we are able to achieve significant emission reductions over the next twenty years or so through conservation and shifts to renewable driven by carbon pricing, then carbon capture and storage may be able to come on line to help close the gap in the 80% reductions emissions needed in developed countries by 2050.

By Donald F. Boesch  |  March 26, 2010; 12:49 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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I believe we need to be looking at two tracks here - CO2 capture from emission streams and recovery of atmospheric CO2 to mitigate the current high levels, and of course reliable (and permanent) sequestration once the CO2 is captured. Since capture requires so much energy, it's also logical to make a full-court press on developing non-emissive sources of power to run the capture systems - like fusion reactors. We need to take a holistic approach to this or we'll just be chipping away at the edges...

Posted by: mblace | March 29, 2010 1:30 PM
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How will anyone know for sure how much co2 is actually sequestered, or whether it still is?

Merely counting the amount put down the hole, and paying credits on that amount are not enough.

What prevents fraud? How are leaks detected? How is sequestration insured? How is it monitored?

Posted by: fabco | March 29, 2010 11:16 AM
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How about using a newer technology reactor design that can recycle wastes and replace coal?

http://energyfromthorium.com/essay3rs/

Posted by: fabco | March 28, 2010 6:48 PM
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The "energy penalty" for sequestering the CO2 from a coal-fired or bio-mass power plant is 30-40% of the power generated. Coupled with the fact that there is not nearly enough adequate subsurface volume available for the amounts of gas that would have to be sequestered leads me to conclude that the sequestration effort is a waste and likely mostly a hoax. It only really exists, and has a high profile now, so that the DOE can show Congress that it is "on top of things", i.e. it is the "best available" solution but is in reality no solution at all.

Posted by: jrw1 | March 27, 2010 2:44 PM
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Quote:

"The capture of carbon from CO2 emission streams and its permanent sequestration within geological formations has the potential to be an important gap closer in achieving the steep reductions in atmospheric emissions needed by the middle of this century in order to avoid dangerous climate change."

And what proof can you offer that any such sequestration would be permanent even if you manage to inject the huge quantities of carbon dioxide into those geological formations? This has never been done for any modern power plant and there are good reasons to question whether the damage caused by placing the CO2 underground would be worth the perceived benefit.

Of course, those in line to benefit from reducing CO2 emissions cannot be expected to even acknowledge the possibility that current climate changes are well within the range of those observed in the last few thousand years and that the whole AGW/GHG phenomenon is a tempest in a teapot.

Posted by: AGWsceptic99 | March 27, 2010 8:47 AM
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